Oak Wilt Scare to Good Conversation
Vroom, Vroom… I was driving along down all the dirt roads and finally pulled up to my destination. I got out of the car and the gentleman laughed and said so you’re a packer fan! I smiled and said you bet! Then the landowners wife came out to greet me, both so ecstatic to meet me, so gosh darn excited to look at their dying trees. My original reason for the visit was to look at a few oaks they suspected were dead from oak wilt.
First we looked at a white pine, infected with weevil-displaying signs of whats called a shepherds crook. The shepherds crook refers to the previous terminal lateral leader on top the tree dies because a new one is growing and taking over. The weevil larvae are laid just below terminal causing it to die and a new one takes over. This is why we see white pines that are not growing straight up but a rather zig-zag formation.
Then we moved on to to some other trees they were worried were going to get diseased like the others on their property…I say other trees because they were calling them spruce trees-I got closer and I said these are not spruces but are balsam fir trees. MINDS BLOWN!! The joy that exuded from the couple put a smile on my face. They asked how I could tell, I explained to them that the needles are softer than a spruce and are flat and cannot be rolled in their fingers as well as pointed out the smoother bark. They were so excited and I responded with “I have never had anyone more excited to hear they had balsams on their property”! I come from a place where balsam fir trees get a bad wrap–on going joke is set the balsam on fire! Not these two! As they are jumping for joy about the balsams they asked me what was growing inside the tree! They pointed out a lovely case of “witches broom” a fungus that grows often on balsam fir trees and blueberry bushes. Its not just a Halloween prop!
Finally we made it back to the oak trees. They walked up to the oaks, expecting devastation. I looked up the tree and browsed the branches and told them its not dead; I see buds! I explained to them that its a red oak and if it was really oak wilt that “killed” their tree last year it would have died no doubt, but this tree and the ones around it were in fact budding. They looked at each other and shared a smile. They said it was the best news they could have gotten. A few thousand dollar problem may have just been resolved by education. They had read my recent article in the paper and took the right steps in talking about it first before spending the money to trench the tree and remove it. Sometimes oaks die due to bugs killing the leaves and causing them to drop-seeming like oak wilt but the next year the tree often comes back.
We then hopped on their golf cart and started speeding through the woods. Now I may have shocked them with the balsam fir, witches broom, and a living oak tree but rarely am I shocked. He began showing me all the trees he had planted. Red pines, white pines, spruces…all with BUD CAPS!!!!! Bud Capping is something I have been trying to explain to folks here in Michigan to help prevent deer from eating off the terminal bud of young saplings, but No one, until now, has heard of it! It is a University of Minnesota thing and that is exactly where he learned it from. I was in complete awe looking around his property seeing white paper stapled on top of all his young trees! Finally we got to our final destination- A HUGE WHITE PINE!!!!! From afar it looked like any other white pine but up close- Oh goodness I was standing under the mother of white pines! The couple hugged the tree trying to see if they could reach each other-they could not!
Needless to say I wowed them and they wowed me!